Books, Prehistory, Avebury A Temple of British Druids, Itinerarium Cuiriosum 1724 The Weddings aka Stanton Drew

Itinerarium Cuiriosum 1724 The Weddings aka Stanton Drew is in Avebury A Temple of British Druids, With Some Others, Described by William Stukeley.

There is an old proverb common in Somersetshire, "Stanton Drew, a mile from Pensford, another from Chue;" which should denote some peculiar regard and excellence in that town, and direction for the ready finding it: and in fact it highly deserves to be celebrated, upon account of that remarkable monument, vulgarly called the Weddings [Stanton Drew Stone Circles], whose name only is but just known to the curious and learned world. To redeem it from further obscurity, I took a journey thither from the Bath in July 1723, where calling on my friend Mr. Strachey, a worthy fellow of the Royal Society, and who has shewn his knowledge in his nice remarks upon the neighbouring coal-mines, we made mensurations of this notable work together. I find it is the most considerable remnant of the ancient Celts which I yet know, next to Stonehenge and Abury. Mr. Aubrey, that indefatigable searcher-out of antiquities, is the first that has observed it ; and I believe Mr. Strachey, living near the place, is the first that measuired it, since the original ground-line was stretched upon the spot. To open a more exact view of this noble antiquity, observe we that there is a little stream runs into the Avon between Bath and Bristol, called Chue, arising near here at a synonymous town, and first passes under a stone bridge at Stanton Drue, where making a pretty turn, as it were, half inclosing our monument, a little further it comes to Pensford ; which is an old British name, for it is written Pennis-ford, Pen ise signifying the head of the river. It was a common usage among all ancient nations, so with our ancestors, to pay a sacred reverence to the fountains of rivers, and frequently were they fought for upon religious occasions, judging a divinity must needs reside where so beneficial an element takes its rise. The road from Pensford to Chue goes along the north side of the river and there, half a mile above, and half a mile below the bridge, lie two great stones, called Hautvil's Coyts [Map], according to the apprehension of the common people, said to be pitched there by Sir John Hautvil, of these parts, a famous champion, of whom legends are printed under the name of Sir John Hawkwell, as vulgarly pronounced. These stones now lie flat upon the ground by the road side, but said to have been standing, and much larger than they are at present ; for some pieces have been knocked off. We measured that toward Pensford 13 foot long, 8 broad, and 4 thick, being a hard reddish stone. Stanton Drue church bears here south-west. What regard this has to the temple which it overlooks on the other side the river, and from higher ground, I cannot fay ; whether it is the remnant (together with the former) of some avenue, or whether it was carried thither, or laid for fome direction to those that lived on that side the river. Repassing the bridge, and entering the inclosures east of the church which belong to a farm there, we come to the Weddings. Here is an old manor-houfe adjacent, which has been a castle ; for the walls are crenated, and some half-moons built to it. The farm-house is an old stone building, said to have been a nunnery, probably founded by some pious lady of the manor. There is a great hall in it, open to the cieling, handsomely made of timber work, and two arched windows with mullions on each side and all the windows of the house are arched in the same manner: at the east end is a winding stone stair-case, and near it, in the yard, an elegant stone dove-cote, round, with six buttresses. This house, with the church and that part of the grounds which is the site of our monument, is a knoll of rising ground, of an oval form, stretched out with a whole broad side against the river, half embracing it with a circular sweep, and but little space between it and the river; and that side from the river has a delicate acclivity or valley winding round it, answerable to the river. The longer axis of this knoll is from north-east to south-west: the major part of it declines manifestly gently toward the river, or northward, and is finely guarded from the north winds by a ridge of hills adjacent ; upon the summit of which is an ancient fortification, called Miz knoll, in the road to Briftol: this is a pleasant place, full of hedges and trees growing very tall, especially elms. The country is stoney, covered over with a reasonable stratum of sandy ground, mixed with clay, which is rich enough. One would imagine this knoll was pitched upon by the founders for the sake of its figure, and because capable of giving a sufficient stability to their work: its declivity carries off the rain, always regarded in this manner of building; for that would loosen the foundations. Here is a fine large area between the temples, for the rites of sacrifice, &c.

I wondered that I observed no tumuli; or barrows, the burying-places of the people about it, as in other cases, but suppofe it owing to the goodness of the foil; for they wisely pitched upon barren ground to reposse their allies, where they could only hope to lie undisturbed: and on Mendip hills, not far off, they are very numerous. This particularly I am told of seven that are remarkable. This monument about ten years ago must have made a most noble appearance, becaufe then perfect. It seems the nuns, and all the possessors of the estate, had left it untouched till a late tenant, for covetousness of the little space of ground they stood upon, buried them for the moft part in the ground: he was juftly punished, for the grass at this time will not grow over them, but withers, because there is not a sufficient depth of earth ; however, for the pleasure of the curious, it is not difficult to retrieve its original figure from what remains. It is the general case of fine monuments, in their perfect state disregarded and obscure, but their ruins are caressed and adored: and this was really an elegant monument, and highly worth visiting, and claims an eminent place in the history of Celtic temples.

The monument consists of four distinct parts, three distant circles, and a cove. The stone it is composed of, is of s a kind as I have not elsewhere seen ; certainly intirely different from that of the country, which is a slab kind. If any stone ever was, this would tempt one to think it factitious, though I think nothing less: it looks like a paste of flints, shells, crystals, and the like solid corpuscles crowded together and cemented, but infallibly by Nature's artifice. The long current of years passing over it, and its most perishable parts being wasted away, leaves the rest much corroded externally, and as it were worm-eaten by dint of time: yet of itself it will stand for ever ; for its texture is extremely hard, and beyond that of marble, at least those of Marlborough downs. If I have any judgement, by oft surveying these kind of works, and with a nice eye, I guess by ts present appearance, and consideration of its wear, to be older than Abury and Stonehenge. One would think, from its dusky and rusty colour, that it is a kind of iron stone ; it is very full of fluors and transparent crystallisations, like Bristol stones, large, and in great lumps ; so that it shines eminently, and reflects the sun-beams with great lustre. I cannot but think that it is brought from St. Vincent's rock, near the mouth of Bristol river, as Mr. Aubrey says expresly ; though Mr. Strachey, who has curiously observed every thing of this kind, cannot affirm it: and if its comes no further, we may well admire at the strength and manner requisite to convey them hither over that rocky country, wholly consisting of hills, and dales, and woods: but the notion of religion fully answers all difficulties ; and the founders well provided for the perpetuity of their work, in the election of their materials. I found some ftone like this by the sea fide, this summer, at Southampton; and the walls of the town are mostly built of it. The stones in our work are apparently very shapely, and squared, though with no mathematical exactness, that is, not hewn with a tool, but rather, as we may suppofe, broke by flints, and a great strength of hand, in those early ages, when iron tools were not found out: the greatest number of the stones are now visible, either standing, fallen, or buried in the ground by the person before mentioned; the places of such for the most part are apparent enough, the grass growing but poorly above, as we said before, is that the purpose of interring them is defeated, and more grass lost by their lying than when they stood in their places. Many may be found by knocking with one's heel upon the spot, whence there is a found; others, by thrusting an iron rod into the earth. The species of the stone renders it useless to be wrought up in building, especially in this country, that abounds with more manageable stone for the purpose. From the regular figures of the stones, as well as their order of posture, the eyes of a spectator would have been charmed with the sight of this work when in perfection, and the whole plain open to the view: at present they are separated by hedge-rows, yards, orchards, and the like; and the persons that laid them out have aukwardly cut them off by the middle, or by segments: the great single circle now stands in no less than three fields, and the other great concentric circles have a ditch and quickset hedge running across one side: the lesser circle is divided in the middle, one half remaining in a pasture, the other among the apple-trees in an orchard. The cove stands in the middle of another orchard by the church and farm-house, which we said was a nunnery, as tradition goes.

The idea upon which some of thefe stones are formed, is different from any I have observed elsewhere. Abury and Stonehenge, and all others yet come to my knowledge, are broad stones: these are square, or what we may call pilasters ; I mean those of the innermost circle [Stanton Drew Great Circle [Map]], or cell, of what I name the Planetary temple: the rest are all of equal dimensions, being six foot broad, nine high, and three thick ; so that their base is a double cube, their length a cube and a half, which shows sufficiently that the builders of this work, as in all others of the like, studied proportion, whence beauty flows. The stones of the outer circle at Stonehenge are of the same model as to the base, but higher upon the breadth, being likewise a double cube. I understand all the while in our monument, that these are Celtic feet, for such I found them, and by that scale is the construction of the whole: also what I speak of is their measure above ground; for I did not desire to indulge a dangerous curiosity in searching how deep they are set in the ground, which has been too fatal already in these antiquities.

The four parts which make up this monument, as we said, are the cove [Map], two single circles [Stanton Drew North East Circle and Stanton Drew South West Circle [Map]], and a quincuple circle [Stanton Drew Great Circle [Map]].

The cove Stanton Drew Cove [Map], as most commonly, consists of three stones, set in a half-moon figure, or, to be more exact, upon the end of an ellipsis whose focus, I suppose, would be in a line upon the foremost edges of the two wings. This is situate in the south-west; part of the oval knoll of ground that contains the whole ; at present in an orchard south of the church, and west of the nunnery before mentioned. The wings are standing, but much diminished by age or violence ; some great pieces being broke off: the stone on the back is fallen down, being a larger one: it is 13 foot long, and 8 broad; therefore of the same dimensions with Hautvil's Coyt [Map], before spoken of. This cove opens to the south-east.

Four hundred foot from this, going eastward, and with an angle of 20 degrees south-ward, in another orchard east of the dove-cote, is a lesser single circle [Stanton Drew South West Circle [Map]], which is 120 foot diameter: this stands upon the southern side of the knoll, and consists of 12 stones, consequently set at the interval of 30 foot, the same as those of the circles at Abury. Here are all the stones left upon the spot, but prostrate, half being within the hedge, half without. This I call the Lunar Temple. This circle is the same diameter and number of stones with the inner circles of the two temples in the work at Abury.

Five hundred foot distant from this, going north-easterly, viz. with an angle of 20 degrees northerly from the east, and across the orchard, and a pasture, is the circumference of the greater single circle [Stanton Drew Great Circle [Map]]; the centre of it is in the next pasture to the north-east; it is 300 foot in diameter, and composed of 30 stones, set at the distance of 30 foot, as before: about 20 of the stones are remaining, but of that number only three standing. The whole circle is contained in three pastures ; the plain on which it stands descends gently toward the river, and keeps it constantly dry.

But 30 foot from this circle is the circumference of the outer circle of the quincuple one Stanton Drew Great Circle [Map], or five concentric circles, the centre whereof is in an angle of 20 degrees more southerly from the line that connects the centres of the two single circles; so that it bears a little northerly of the east from the solar circle. The manner of thus conjoining five circles in one is very extraordinary, and what I have no where else met withal ; and its primitive aspect must have had as remarkable an effect, by the crebity of the stones, as their intervals: and, upon moving towards them, or sideways, they must have created the same beautiful and surprising appearance to the eye, as the more learned architects have endeavoured by the multiplicity of columns in their portico's, forums, and the like, of which Vitruvius speaks: yet I think, in my judgement, this circular work must needs vastly have exceeded, in this particular, those most celebrated works of the Greeks and Romans ; because in a strait walk there is but always the same variety (if we may talk so) presented to the eye ; whereas in ours, the circles not being exactly at the same distance from one another as the stones are, and therefore not confining themselves to so strict a regularity, it must have heightened that agreeable diversification. It is very obvious, that the compilers used art and consideration in adjusting the diameters with the number of the stones, and that one circle should not be vastly disproportionate to another: thus the outermost circle is 310 foot in diameter; therefore it receives 32 stones at 30 foot interval: the next is 250 in diameter, with 28 stones: the next, 230; consequently requires 22 stones to complete it: the next is 150 foot in diameter, consisting of 16 stones ; the innermost is 90, therefore has 9 stones ; but then two of them are crowded together, and set at an angle a little obtuse, so that they form a fort of niche, or cove, of a different manner from any other. Several of these ftones are fallen, several stand ; which may be better understood by surveying the drawings, than by a tedious recapitulation: therefore I took different views of the work hereabouts, where it is most intire, that in after-times, by comparing the prints with the life, the difference may appear, if any shall be ; but I hope they ever will be useless to those that view the place itself, and that the owners of the estate will preserve the monument for the glory of their country.